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This was a title decider of a different kind, the world championship of wooden spoons. But it was never dull. Though these were obviously Test cricket's two weakest nations, the cricket was intense, competitive and sometimes riveting. For Bangladesh, the outcome was historic: their first Test victory led to their first Test series win, followed by their first win in a one-day series.
Even before Zimbabwe landed, there was a buzz in the Dhaka air: Bangladeshis expected an end to the four-year wait for a maiden Test victory. For the first time in their Test history, their team was the more experienced and accomplished. Zimbabwean cricket was in a mess, thanks to the dispute between its board and the top white players, which had led to the suspension of their Test status for seven months. It was a young and inexperienced Zimbabwe that began their comeback; seven of the 16-strong party were under 20, and only captain Tatenda Taibu and Dion Ebrahim had played more than nine Tests. Bangladesh, by contrast, buoyed by their spirited oneday victory over India less than a fortnight earlier, played with passion and determination as they began to grasp the real thrill of international cricket.
Even so, Zimbabwe put up a fight. After giving Bangladesh their longawaited victory in the First Test at Chittagong, they hit back so strongly at Dhaka that they looked likely to win, and they proceeded to go 2-0 up in the one-day series. Bangladesh showed tremendous character to win the next three; only South Africa had previously taken a five-match one-day series after losing the first two, against Pakistan in 2002-03. And their performance in the Second Test, where the batsmen clung on to draw from an apparently hopeless situation, was hailed by their Australian coach, Dav Whatmore, as even more impressive than a win.
The 21-year-old Taibu led Zimbabwe astutely, and was the outstanding batsman of the Test series. His only aberration was a duck at Chittagong; his other innings were 92, 85 not out and 153, for an average of 110. But the man of the series was Bangladesh's left-arm spinner Enamul Haque junior, officially said to be only 18.
Enamul also had one disappointment, when he was wicketless in Zimbabwe's first innings of the series. After that, he spun a web to capture 18 wickets at 16.66, twice as many as any other bowler and a Bangladesh series record. He also returned Bangladesh's best-ever innings and match analyses at Dhaka. Zimbabwe's woes against left-arm spinners did not end there, and Bangladesh fielded four of them in the one-day games, including three in the series-clincher. "Next time, before coming to the subcontinent, we will have to learn to play left-arm spin," Zimbabwe's vice-captain Mluleki Nkala said ruefully.
Enamul proved the difference between the sides, but it was a team effort from Bangladesh, with everyone chipping in as needed. Four Bangladeshis averaged over 40, and crucially, for the first time in their Test history, the openers regularly provided a solid base. Whatmore was particularly delighted with the batsmen's occupation of the crease for long periods, so often a failing in the past, but now the factor which enabled them to draw at Dhaka and ensure the series victory.
Match reports for
Bangladesh Cricket Board XI v Zimbabweans at Chittagong, Jan 1-3, 2005